Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wild Kingdom Round 4: Guest Blog by Klenda

Did I mention that we also have a tank of Blue Pearl Shrimp?

Zorg's godfather gave us 3 or 4 of them and we put them in a tank in my room. And they had baby shrimp!

There are hundreds and HUNDREDS of little shrimp spots! At first, we thought they were bacteria or bugs in the water.

Then we realized they were BABY SHRIMP!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Seven Quick Takes Friday: Kid Clean Up

How about seven ways to get your kids to clean up?

1. If it's an overwhelming mess, help out. Make a deal where you pick up 1, 2, or 3 things for every one the kids pick up (depending on the age and number of kids). Count out loud! Invariably, after a short time, my kids start doing extra to get ahead of me and end up doing more than the deal as I bemoan my fate.

2. Have them pick up a specific number of things, and break it up with treats. We do this when we are watching educational you Tube or BrainPop videos. Everyone knows that to watch another 2 minute video they have to pick up 5 or 10 things. Looked at the other way, when you are doing something the kids like, break it up with work!

3. Break the job down for them. Make a list (if they can read) that tells them specifically what to do. For example, if they are cleaning their room: First pick up all the clothes. Then pick up the books. Next, pick up the toys. Then pick up the trash. Last, make your bed. If they can't read, stay with them and tell them, or make up a song to remind them of the order. The actual order doesn't matter, but the skill of breaking a big job into manageable bites is invaluable.

4. If you have more than one kid working, give them separate jobs. If you tell two or more kids to clean a room, invariably there will be a kid or kids who slack off, or can do less work because of age. The bad feelings and noise level do not make for a clean room! If you have the younger kid pick up the blocks (no sorting involved) and the older kid pick up trash (has to distinguish trash/non-trash), they both will work more willingly and you can tell who is actually slacking off!

5. DO NOT make clean up competitive between kids! The bad feelings ruin the "clean house' feeling. Have them compete against a timer, or against you. I've never yet had a laundry folding competition with my kids that I have won... or lost, if you think about it. Team spirit and a mountain of folded laundry was worth a certain amount of humility!

6. Bribe for big, extraordinary jobs, but not for the normal every day ones. When the whole house needs to be cleaned, I break it up into 9 big jobs. Why 9? Because all the Bionicle movies are free on You Tube in 9 ten minute sections each. Do you have any idea how many big jobs 5 people can do in 9 spurts when they are anxious to see what happens next? I can get the house done and then some, especially if I keep working while they watch. Looney Tunes and Duckula also work well here.

7. Appeal to their better natures (as dramatically as possible). When I've told a kid I really needed help, explained why, and told them what they could do to help me, I have never, ever, ever had them let me down. Always they do what I have asked, and often more! BE GRATEFUL!!! Make a big deal about the fact that they are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. If you are going to pull the weeds, be even more enthusiastic about watering the flowers! Nurture the hero inside of your kid and you will see it more often.

More with Jen!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Did you remember that last Saturday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day?

We did.

I was planning to be away on retreat, but Oob and Choclo were still clingy in the final phases of recovery from the swine flu, so I sent the Emperor off instead.

I wasn't sure how much to do with The Emperor being away. On the one hand, I didn't want to get in over my head with projects, on the other, busy kids are easier than bored kids. This is all so much easier now that the older Zoomlians are older!

For one thing, it's amazng to see how much the older Zoomlians do on their own initiative. I set up a treasure hunt, pirate packets (printed from around the internet), and cooked an assortment of pirate food, but they pulled together their own costumes. Zorg made a knife out of foil. Klenda made everyone eye patches.

They spent a lot of time that day drawing treasure maps.


We had treasure cake for breakfast (banana bread with chocolate chips, the loaf looks like a treasure chest, the chocolate is the treasure).

Lunch was goldfish with hoctopuses (hot dogs with half of them sliced to make the tentacles, then microwaved so the tentacles curl up).

I don't remember dinner. Might have been tunamac made with wagon wheels (they look like coins?).

We finished up that evening with a showing of Muppet Treasure Island to all the happy crew!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wild Kingdom Round 3: Something Fishy

Did I mention the guppy breeding project?

A while back we got some guppies with the intention of doing breeding to better understand genetics.

We bought some males and some females, of course. The males all died because of a parasite disaster in the big tank. One of the two females died in a separate tank disaster (the filter got disconnected).

That left one female, but that was OK because she was pregnant! A non pregnant guppy is referred to as a "male", as it turns out. From her one encounter with the unknown father, she gives birth to a batch of fry every month...for six months.

Her last batch was fairly small, so we think she is near the end. Her first batch is almost ready to breed. I believe they are ready, but we are still waiting for full color development so we can decide which ones to breed.

I have been separating the sexes as soon as I could tell them apart (3-4 weeks old). I do this by scooping them out and looking at them in a wine glass (the only "glass" glass in the house) which has led to some odd looks as well as an interesting conversation with my mother in law when she found a snail in my wine glass at 2 in the afternoon. Fortunately, she is splendidly understanding about such things!

Anyway, after sexing the last batch, the grand total is: 47 males and 48 females, counting the mother. The one male that we think is fully mature is quite striking. He has a dark blue iridescent body and his fins are red with dark spots.

In a few weeks, when the rest have colored up, we'll start intentional breeding.

We also discovered something interesting about guppies! The mother has a dark blue body and light blue fins with dark spots. When I put her in the female tank (the lower picture) she turned pale and lost her color. I thought it was stress, but I couldn't figure out what could be wrong. Then I read an article on wild guppies that mentioned that wild females were covered with "melanophores"which changed the guppy's color depending on the color she was swimming over. The guppy turned dark when swimming over dark rocks, but light over a sandy bottom. If you look at the two tanks, one has a black substrate and the other is light tan!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Wild Kingdom Round 2: Guest Blog by Mxyl

Hello, Earthlings! We saw the most amazing thing yesterday!

First we saw a male mockingbird singing to a female mockingbird from a bush. Then two rivals landed in the same bush. The three males started fighting over her.

The first male drove off the two fiends, then resumed singing to his true love. After a few songs, the female finally flew over to her new husband and they flew off swooping around each in flight!

This a picture of the female I took while she was watching the fight.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wild Kingdom Round 1: Chicks

First the chick update: our grand total is three chicks; the fourth egg was never fertilized. They are growing with astounding speed! The first two have already opened their eyes and are getting the beginnings of feathers (the process looks terribly itchy).

I don't know if you subscribe to the "ontology recapitulates phylogeny" theory, but the chicks look remarkably like dinosaurs to me!

We have started handling the larger chicks so that they are a little tamer than their parents (we hope). They are comically cute: gawky, soft, warm, fragile, and yet, oddly reptilian. It really has been a remarkable experience!

Lastly, here is a shot of the parents (in case, from the above pictures, you thought they were actually mutant zombie dinosaur chicks). The mom is Peace (the white one), and the dad is Joy (the blue one).

And, of course, you recognize Choclo feeding them while streams of grace shine forth from the heavens because that's just the kind of kid he is.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Swine Flu Update

We are moving along: 6 kids have it so far, Leena is recovered and Klenda is nearly so. It definitely is hitting Oob and Choclo harder than the bigger Zoomlians. The Emperor and I are waiting for our turn.

A friend suggested that we might not get it. At this point, I would rather get it in the mild form the kids have and know that I am then immune to it. I could then also know that I am non contagious when co-op starts up next week...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Prayer Request

A friend of a friend has been in a live in relationship with a man for some 20 years now. On Sunday he suffered a massive heart attack and died very suddenly. He was about 60. Please pray for the repose of his soul, and for her suffering. She is really in shock. I don't think either of them had religious inclinations.

I know it is dreadfully hard to deal with sudden tragedy without God.

I also wonder if being in a quasi married relationship makes it harder to deal with the death of a non-spouse. You have all the pain of being widowed, but you can't say what people would readily understand: "My husband died."

I have only met her two or three times, so I don't know what she is feeling, except through mutual friends who are caring for her, and I never met him, but please pray for them both.

Monday, September 14, 2009

US History: The Age of Exploration vs. The Swine Flu

I've learned the hard way that you can't do high tide all the time! After the high tide mini unit on Native Americans, we are enjoying a quieter micro unit on the Age of Exploration.

This mostly is me (or a random kid) reading from our anchor book and all of us looking at the globe and time line. I am getting feedback by having them tell the Emperor about it over dinner.

In case you are wondering about the video idea, our recorder is not on speaking terms with our computer. After arguing with both, I've decided to try again after our friend Bill switches us over to a different computer.

Behind the scenes, I am gearing up for the Colonial mini unit. And dealing out ibuprofen.

Oh, yes, we do seem to have the swine flu! Klenda and Leena have it so far, and we are hoping it is quick and mild and does not completely derail our plans for the Inside Catholic banquet and my first retreat in 3 years (all next weekend). The girls are feeling OK - about the level of a bad cold as long as we keep the ibuprofen up and the fever down.

On the plus side, we could be over the whole thing before CCD, Scouts, and Co-op all start next week. And think of all the time, hassle, and expense we will save by not needing the vaccine.

I could just squeal with delight!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

US History: Wrapping Up Native Americans!

We're wrapping up this mini unit. I thought it would be tough to get back into it after 5 days off and our jaunt to Air and Space, but it wasn't too bad.

We did the punch out North Western Village as our diorama. Klenda and Mxyl did most of it, and they had a good time. I think I will have them glue it onto a board so that we can keep it in our museum as part of our diorama time line.

We spent more time on our time line today. Did you know that agriculture sprang up all around the world around the same time? Between 10, 000 and 8,000 B.C. from North and South America to the Fertile Crescent, everyone figured out how to grow food.

Back to the Native Americans, we made our moccasins while sitting outside and enjoying the fine weather. This project turned out to be tremendously fascinating, not only to the Zoomlians, but to everyone who passed by.

I would definitely recommend the kits. They worked out to be the right balance of complexity and practical "doability." And now they all have self made shoes!

I'm sure that we will do more with Native Americans as we go into the colonial period, but for now, we are starting to look at the Pre- Columban explorers, particularly the Vikings.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Last month, our parakeets, Peace and Joy, started nibbling and nudging every wooden object that was more than five feet above the ground.

It was cute. Then annoying. Then I got it! Wild parakeets nest in holes that they carve for themselves out of tree trunks. They want a nest!

So I got a nest box and they quickly set up house keeping. Peace sat in the the box quietly while Joy sat outside and sang to her. Then he started feeding her (a behavior that looks like kissing).

Eventually, over the course of a week or so, she laid 4 perfect eggs, each the size of a penny.

And a few days ago, we heard the sweetest tiny cheeping... and now we are hearing two kinds of tiny cheeps. They sure grow fast! The older chick is about 4 days old here, and the younger is 1 day old. You can see the older chick has more than doubled his size in 4 days!

Sorry for the fuzzy picture, we only get to see them when both parents are out of the nest (a fairly rare occurrence), and then for only a short time.

Joy has started sleeping in the nest box so that he can help feed the chicks at night. What a good Dad!

I had been told that parakeets usually only manage 1 or 2 chicks out of their first clutch, but we think these chicks are from the first 2 eggs laid, so all the eggs may be fertile.

We won't count our chicks before they are hatched, though!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Happy Birthday, Zorg!

Happy Birthday, Zorg!

Nine years of mighty mayhem and fun!

Nine years of funny jokes and interesting observations!

Nine years of wrestling and snuggling and tickling and purring!

We love you so much and we can't imagine our family without you!

It's been a great 9 years and we can't wait to see what you will do next!!

Air and Space Annex

In honor of Zorg's birthday, we went to the Air and Space Annex near Dulles airport. We had never been there, but I am sure we will go again!

We hung out in the observation tower, watching planes land and learning about air traffic control.

We saw early jet packs!

We saw Optimus Prime!

We even saw R2D2! Yes, it is a mailbox, but Leena was quite taken with it.

It's not possible to show all the cool things: we loved the Blackbird and the Enola Gay.

This Huey is special to us because my Dad served in Vietnam War.

But the best had to be the space shuttle Enterprise!

The kids were very surprised to see that the outer skin was made up of little heat shielding tiles. From a distance (and in toy form) the shuttle looks smooth.

Second best was the space toys!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Overheard in the Van

Leena: My superhero name is Leopard, but they call me Leopard for short!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

US History: More Native Americans!

Thursday, the day after our enormous Native American wave, I decided we must go to the National Museum of the American Indian right now!

This sudden urgency was because I realized that, 1: we had blown through most of the activities I had planned for this mini unit and the interest was at its peak, and 2: Friday we would be spending with doctor visits, then there was the holiday weekend, then there was a birthday, and we wouldn't be able to return to the subject for nearly a week. Yikes!

So we went, and a fantastic time was had by all. The first thing we saw was that they had a "family activity" going on! So the older Zoomlians learned some Indian beading techniques while I showed the younger two around the boats in the center of the main hall.
The little guys enjoyed the boats, although it somehow left Choclo with the impression that the central main hall was actually a swimming pool. And he wanted to go swimming right now. This did not help us at the water feature later.

One advantage to the "family activity" was the availability of friendly and knowledgeable docents. I explained what we were doing and she directed us to the fourth floor where there is a truly amazing set up called, I believe, "Our Universe."

The central area is darkened with lights representing the Milky Way and other constellations. Here you could watch a variety of animated star myths from different cultures. Coming off of this chamber are eight others representing eight different cultures from the Inuit to the Mayas. Many of them are designed as houses and all show artifacts and clothing particular to that culture.

Well! That was perfect! You could see the landscape they lived in, how had this place affected how they lived? Their food, their clothes, their homes? It could have been custom built for us!

Outside of that, was a wall of interesting artifacts along with interactive computers that let you zoom in on them and find out all sorts of things.

About two hours later, with our parking meter running out, we did a last look at the grounds. I do think the grounds may be the best part of the Museum! Here are the Zoomlians, strenuously not playing in the waterfalls. What you can't see from here are the model houses, the beautiful gardens showing how people farmed, and the"natural" gardens.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

US History: Native Americans!

We started off talking (and reading) a lot about different tribes of Native Americans. It's been an interesting study of how where you live determines how you live, especially since all these people came from the same place relatively recently (in human history).

Since how you eat (and get your food) is such a big part of how you live, we've been discussing the transition from hunters to hunter/gatherers to farmers. So, of course, we've been talking a lot about corn and yesterday, we made a field trip to the grocery store and bought some.

First we shucked the ears and made some corn husk dolls. OK, lots and lots of corn husk dolls. Klenda even started making tepees for them to live in. We talked about how the people who lived in tepees were nomads (that's why they lived in tents), which meant they traveled frequently (which meant they couldn't grow corn).

Then we cut the kernels off of some of the ears to make parched corn. Here are the fresh kernels.

Here they are, nicely dried, after a night in a low oven.

And here they are, fried in butter and salted.

After which they disappeared quickly!

After that, we searched for the native American clothing we had made three years ago. This was not a wholly wasted effort: I found 4 blankets actually woven by Native Americans. Ummm... They wore blankets when it was cold!

Then we made a tepee out of PVC pipes, string, a sheet, and two safety pins. It fell over the first time because I hadn't lashed the top together tightly enough: note to self, always wrap the cord around each pipe individually, then tie them together! The second time I also tried positioning the poles in various holes which the kids had dug in the yard over the past few years (here I had thought they were good for nothing but tripping me!).

The last time we did this I had bought a larger size pipe of PVC and cut lengths on a slant. I pounded them into the ground with a hammer, then slipped the poles into the larger pipes. That is the way to go if you want to keep it up for more than a few hours!

After lunch, we tried our hand at sand painting. We sketched the design with chalk, then poured the sand into the design. We used white play sand tinted (or not) with powdered tempra.

After that, Klenda expressed that the blankets didn't count as actual clothing so we traced a (made up) pattern on a tan sheet and she sewed it together herself! A landmark achievement, indeed! She then went on to fringe the edges. I must add that buying sheets when they are crazy cheap (like they are now during "dorm season") is a great source for fabric for costumes.

And then Zorg wanted to start making his moccasins. After making less than one, we discovered I had misunderstood the sizes for children. Oops!

We finished it anyway and discovered that it fit Choclo. Which means the ones for Leena will likely fit Oob. So, I'll just order more in the right size for Leena and Zorg, and everyone will have moccasins, right? Leena had another idea, "How about, you could have a baby girl, and they would fit her?" (No, this is not an announcement, just a crazy idea!)

Personally, I'm exhausted, but it was a heck of a fun day and my personal definition of high tide!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

First Day of No School

We had our delayed First Day of No School last Thursday!

Off we went to Watkin's Park, also known as The Big Enormous Playground With the Teeny Tiny Zoo. We played on the playground for a while.

The diggers at the sandbox were a big hit.

Then we went over to the farm/zoo. Choclo's favorite animal was the tractor, of course!

Everyone loved feeding grass to the peacocks and llamas.

And we wrapped up our visit with a ride on the carousel!